If your goal is a lifted and sculpted backside, these six upper-glute exercises can help you develop that coveted "glute shelf." This butt-lifting workout goes way beyond basic squats and lunges to perk up your backside quickly and effectively.
Truth time: In order to build up muscle for a firm backside, you need to be consistent and incorporate weights into your workout routine. And while you can change the look of your backside through exercise and diet, Aminah Ali, CPT, an instructor at Barry's in New York City, says it is important to keep expectations in mind.
"Each of us is different, so expectations will look a little different for everyone. That being said, targeting your backside and lifting [weights] two to three times a week is ideal," she tells LIVESTRONG.com. "This gives your body the appropriate recovery time for muscle growth. Always remember that hard work and consistency pay off!"
Here are Ali's favorite upper-glute exercises with weights to develop a strong and sculpted glute shelf. Add them into your next upper-glute workout.
The 6 Best Upper-Glute Exercises
For these glute exercises, you need dumbbells, a barbell or a weighted plate. To find your perfect dumbbell, choose a weight that you can lift 10 times with good form but the last 2 reps should feel difficult, according to the American Council on Exercise.
Generally 6 to 12 reps with a rest of 60 seconds or less between sets is a good sweet spot for building muscle, according to a December 2019 study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
Ready to start sculpting your glutes? Incorporate at least two of these upper-glute isolation exercises into your next lower-body workout, Ali recommends.
1. Single-Leg Bridge
- Lie on your back with your arms at your sides, feet flat on the ground and knees bent.
- Raise your right foot off the ground and extend it straight, keeping your knees in line. Hold this leg elevated throughout the motion.
- Press into your left heel and raise your hips up, contracting your glutes.
- Reverse the motion and bring your hips back to the ground.
- Perform all your reps with the right leg elevated, then switch sides.
If lifting one leg feels too challenging, you can perform a traditional glute bridge with both feet on the ground at all times.
2. Single-Leg Deadlift
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold a dumbbell in each hand.
- Push your hips back and hinge forward at your waist, letting the dumbbells drift toward the ground with straight arms.
- Let your left leg extend straight behind you while your arms move toward the ground, back flat.
- Continue moving forward until your body is in a straight line, your left leg straight behind you. Keep your arms hanging straight down.
- Slowly reverse the motion and move your left leg back to the starting position.
- Repeat on both sides.
3. Bulgarian Split Squat
- Stand a few feet in front of a bench, box or chair, facing away from it, holding a dumbbell in each hand at your sides.
- Reach your left foot back and place the top of your foot flat on the surface. To help with balance, widen your base of support by moving your left foot a few inches to the left.
- Lean your torso forward slightly and bend your front knee to sink your hips toward the floor as low as you can comfortably go.
- Your front-leg shin should be vertical or close to it, while your back knee should point down toward the floor. If either leg is out of place, move your front foot forward or backward until you’ve found the ideal positioning.
- Push through the middle of your front foot to return to standing.
- Complete all reps on one leg before switching to the other.
Start with a light pair of dumbbells. But if your Bulgarian split squats feel too challenging, you can use just your body weight.
4. Sumo Squat
- Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, toes pointed out at a 45-degree angle. (If the position feels uncomfortable, move your feet in a little closer).
- Hold a dumbbell in each hand in front of you, arms straight.
- Keeping your back straight, push your hips back and bend your knees out over your toes to squat down. Thinking about sliding down a wall, keeping your back as straight as possible and avoiding leaning forward or sticking your butt out.
- Lower until your your thighs are parallel to the floor (or as low as you can go).
- Activate your core, glutes and quads to propel your body back upright, driving your weight through your feet to return to a standing position.
- Squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement and repeat.
5. Weighted Donkey Kick
- Start on all fours, with your hands under each shoulder, knees in line with your hips
- Place a dumbbell behind your right knee, or put on ankle weights.
- Keeping your right knee bent to hold the dumbbell in place, reach your right foot toward the ceiling.
- Lift your right leg as far as you can, keeping your knee bent and your back neutral.
- Squeeze your glutes at the top and then return to the starting position.
- Repeat on each side.
6. Single-Leg Squat
- Stand with your shoulders back and your feet at hip-width distance.
- Lift your right foot off of the floor in front of you, leg straight.
- Hold your arms straight out in front of you.
- Keeping your back neutral, bend your left knee, pushing your hips back as you lower toward the ground.
- Stop when your lifted leg is the same height as your bent leg.
- Start with a shallow squat and then progress to deeper squats as able.
- Repeat on each side.
Start with no weight and then progress to holding dumbbells as your balance and strength improves. If you are having difficulty performing the single-leg squat, you can place your back against a wall or hold onto a chair for stability. Make sure you don't allow your knee to extend past your toes.
The Benefits of Strong Glute Muscles
Your glutes are actually made up of three muscles: gluteus maximus, gluteus minimus and gluteus medius. The upper- glute shelf is made up of your gluteus maximus and gluteus medius.
The large gluteus maximus makes up most of your backside. This muscle helps extend your leg back and allows you to turn your leg outward. The gluteus medius is a smaller muscle that works with the gluteus minimus to help move your leg out to the side and turn your leg inward.
Your glutes also help stabilize and support your pelvis and back when you walk, run, stand, bend over and stand up. They also help you balance and provide force when you sprint or jump. Basically, your glutes are the reason you can do most lower-body movements.
So, strengthening your glutes not only gives you a sculpted backside, but it also has real benefits for everyday life.
When Will You See Results?
Rome wasn't built in a day. But exactly how long can you expect to see glute-building results? Well, that depends on several factors, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE).
Genetics plays a big role in your ability to build muscle. Some people have a predisposition to build muscle more quickly than others. But hormones are also a factor, as those with more testosterone build muscle more quickly.
Not all muscle-building factors are out of your control, though. A diet full of muscle-building foods (like lean meats, eggs and chickpeas, for example) and consistent training will give you results, too. Although it's not a hard-and-fast rule, by following a consistent exercise routine and healthy diet plan, you may even be able to build 0.5 to 2 pounds of muscle per month, according to a February 2020 study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
"Diet is key, and you should fuel your body to support your training," Ali says. "I always say, 'you can't out train a bad diet.'"
It's also important to keep a realistic goal in mind. Try not to get too caught up in celebrity photos or social media videos — after all, photoshop, filters and surgical procedures can work wonders. You can absolutely develop a strong, aesthetic backside through diet and exercise, though it may not happen as quickly as some internet celebrities promise.
More Upper Glute Workout Ideas
In addition to the exercises above, Ali says if you have access to a gym or gym equipment, there are several machines that target your glutes.
"The gym allows you to lift heavier," she says, recommending barbell deadlifts, barbell squats and cable kickbacks for targeting your glutes.
Heavy hip bridges (using a weighted barbell) and kettlebell swings also help target and strengthen your glute muscles.
And don't discount cardio, either. Cardio is also beneficial when targeting your glutes — and you can't go wrong with sprints and plyometric moves like jump squats and jump lunges, according to Ali.
- American Council on Exercise: "A Girls Guide to Gaining Muscle: Weight Training"
- International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health: " Maximizing Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review of Advanced Resistance Training Techniques and Methods"
- National Academy of Sports Medicine: "Toning vs. Bulking Up: What's The Difference?"
- National Library of Medicine: "Anatomy, Bony Pelvis and Lower Limb, Gluteus Maximus Muscle"
- American Board of Cosmetic Surgery: "Brazilian Butt Lift"